Are Kasper Hauser's members the funniest people in San Francisco? Just try not busting a gut over the sketch troupe's new SkyMaul: Happy Crap You Can Buy from a Plane, a takeoff on the SkyMall catalogs you find on airplanes. An uncanny takeoff. It's stuffed with lovingly photographed faux products (including Our Safest Electric Jungle Gym, a steal at $599.99) and excessively cheerful copy (for the Racial Globe Toaster: "Press any country, and your toast will toast to the shade of its inhabitants' skin!").
If you've seen Kasper Hauser live, you've witnessed their ability to write sketches that mash up the familiar and the absurd. And then there's Kasper Hauser's Web site, www.kasperhauser.com, which further showcases their talent for injecting surreal elements into a variety of media: short videos ("A Solution for Male Camel Toe") and the popular Kasper Hauser Comedy Podcast, plus a takeoff on Craigslist that's equal parts bizarre and hilarious. The busy comedians are also working on a pilot proposal for Current TV.
As the quartet prepared for SkyMaul-themed shows at both the Chicago and San Francisco Sketchfests (local performances are Jan. 17, 19, and 21), I visited KH HQ in the Mission, where Dan Klein, Rob Baedeker, James Reichmuth, and John Reichmuth former Stanford classmates who've been performing together since 2000 chatted about parody, creativity, and the importance of staying staunchly San Franciscan. (Cheryl Eddy)
SFBG Have you noticed that audiences have more awareness of sketch comedy, given the rise of festivals like SF Sketchfest? Or do people still want to yell things out like it's an improv show?
JOHN REICHMUTH I don't really like to use the word sketch very much because it usually gets a bad reaction. That is what we are, but people take that as sort of a euphemism for "quick and undeveloped" and "over the top." "Zany." We hate the word zany random, zany, silly. Those are just words that mean that the person did not watch you. [Other members laugh.] I think that each city that has a sketch fest has seen [awareness of the form] grow. Clearly, it's happened in San Francisco; what you have is an audience with much more clearly defined expectations.
SFBG What can audiences expect from this year's show?
ROB BAEDEKER With SkyMaul, we adapted material from the book and then used some old characters and sketches and sort of cobbled together a show that's new in most ways.
JOHN REICHMUTH It's a narrative about the company, the imaginary [SkyMaul] company, but it's surreal like we are. It just sort of transcends time and space and physical laws.
SFBG How did you come up with the premise for the book? Obviously, everyone who's been on a plane has seen a SkyMall catalog.
DAN KLEIN We'd fly to festivals, basically, and we'd grab the SkyMall....
JAMES REICHMUTH We would write captions above [the photos] and try to crack each other up.
KLEIN We have a great book agent, Danielle Svetkov, who actually came to us and said, "You guys gotta have a book in you somewhere." When we gave her the proposal, we had two offers in two days.
JOHN REICHMUTH We also started the proposal with the words "fuck you." [Everyone laughs.] It said "Fuck you. No, I'm serious. Fuck you that is such a great idea."
BAEDEKER That was all in quotes, and then it said, "That's what people say when they hear that we're working on this book."
JOHN REICHMUTH That is actually how we pitched it.